I came across an interesting article on Lifehacker which asks parents to shift how they talk to their kids – the author suggests we should minimize telling kids what to do and instead ask them how something can be done.
When I first read the article, it struck me that the author’s idea seemed similar to what I’ve been doing with my boys regarding cleaning their room, which I wrote about earlier.
However, the Lifehacker article applies the technique to many more things in a child’s life, and it made me realize I was thinking too narrowly.
What’s the Idea?
To quickly summarize – the basic idea is that it’s much better to ask our children questions about how or what they would do rather than tell them what to do.
Why is this important?
Because when you ask a child a question, it requires them to formulate their own answer, to think things through, and then to own the solution.
On the other hand, telling a child what to do puts them in a subservient role. It discourages ownership of the solution, and in the extreme, may even cause them to rebel.
The author suggests several questions one can ask a child, depending on the situation. I’ve summarized the reason for each question in the sections below and included my thoughts.
Note: Although I’ve used her core questions, I’ve mostly used my own explanations and also cut out some of her questions. If you’re interested in seeing all the original questions and her explanations, then check out the original article.
Let’s look at the different types of questions and how they can be applied:
Asking Questions Helps a Child Learn To…
Become Future Aware
Children are notorious for not being future-aware, especially younger kids. Even older kids don’t seem to give much thought to the future in a lot of cases. The author of the Lifehacker article tackles the “future aware” issue with the following:
“What is your plan after dinner/this weekend/to study for your math quiz when you get home from soccer so late?” Asking this question helps your child begin to develop a sense of time. For the most part, your child lives in two worlds: the “now” and the “not now.” They have a very difficult time making the connection that what they have to do later (in the day or the week or the month) can and should affect what needs to be done now.
This lack of “future awareness” is one of the hardest concepts to teach and one of the hardest to learn. It is the essence of time management. This question is an organic way for children to begin to formulate routines and schedules and remember what they need to accomplish in the process.
To encourage a child to adopt a mindset of “planning ahead”, rather than explaining to the child exactly what they should do and how they should do it, simply ask them the question “What’s your plan?” Some followup questions asking for detail they may be missing could help ensure they have thoroughly thought things through.
Break Down a Problem into Steps
If a child needs to execute a series of small steps in order to achieve a larger step, ask the question “What do you need to do in order to…” and see if they can tell you all the steps. You may need to follow up with “… and then what would you need to do” to have them complete the sequences.
Having the child write down the individual steps while telling you what they are is recommended.
Understand Their Own Fallibility
When you want to remind a child that they are fallible and often have problems remembering to follow up on commitments or other future activities, simply ask them “How are going to remember to remember?”
One thing kids are bad at is anticipating problems. When a kid tells you something they’ll be doing in the future which you see a problem for, instead of telling them what may go wrong, simply ask “What could possibly get in your way?”
Asking is Better than Telling
The article also lists several other great questions we can use with our children when we want them to start taking initiative and planning how to achieve activities.
The alternative is us as parents having to remind them all the time what to do, which as I’m sure you know is less than ideal